The Summer of Love: 50 Years On

It’s been fifty years since Jimi Hendrix set alight to his Fender Stratocaster at Monterey; fifty years since the Beatles released their seminal and since unmatched Sgt Pepper; fifty years since the peak of hippie-dom, the Summer of Love. So, how does society compare? Has society changed? Surely not.

A post-Brexit, President Trump-ruling apocalyptic world mirrors that of a 1960s Cold War on the brink of catastrophe. Discontent with Vietnam corresponds with present day calls of ‘Wenger Out’. The Beat Generation has become the Dab Generation. Rather than tuning in and dropping out to Timothy Leary, we are tuning into a bunch of sleeve-tattoo-stained neanderthals on MTV discussing who did who in Tiger Tiger the previous night. Rather than being everyone’s man, we are now everyone’s mate, sporting not curly locks but a sick ‘fade’. We have substituted chasing the magic dragon for the futile task of searching for imaginary Pokemon. LSD trips to Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead, make way for MDMA dropping to Diplo and Deadmau5.

In 1967, arguably the greatest album to grace the shelves of HMV was released, in the form of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fast-forward to 2017, we have had solo material from every member of our blessed generations famous five, One Direction. 50 years ago, just as Hendrix hypnotized hippies with his pyrotechnics, Otis Redding marched out of obscurity and into the hearts of an interracial audience at Monterey. In two half hour performances, questions were seriously asked of the state of civil rights in the US.

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The Monterey Pop Festival was a marriage of musical genres, a spiritual encounter between the Los Angeles and San Francisco hippy heartlands. It was symbolic of the Summer of Love. Coachella is symbolic of all that’s wrong with modern society. Monterey represented the pinnacle of the hippy and counterculture movements, before its consequent downfall with Altamont and the Manson family. Does this mean veganism will actually be the next murderous cult?

Nevertheless, let us celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Jump aboard the magic bus I just ordered on Uber. My virtual stylist on ASOS tells me round glasses are back in. And get your fix of flower power; you don’t even need to physically wear flowers in your hair, technology does it for you. Scott McKenzie’s era defining San Francisco ‘If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear the flowers in your hair’, still applies, just requires subtle tweaking:
‘If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to apply the Snapchat flower crown filter to your hair’.

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Kasabian at the O2 Academy Birmingham – 13.04.2017

Welcome return for Comeback Kids Kasabian

Mixing a portion of indie, a pinch of electronica and a spoonful of football hooliganism, Kasabian have cemented their place as one of Britain’s most riotous live acts. As such, tickets for such an exclusive (by their standards) event were as hard to come by as an Arsene Wenger loyalist.

You’re In Love With A Psycho opened proceedings and initiated the party. The first of three new songs played on the night, while it perhaps didn’t suit its set opening slot, it will undoubtedly be a staple of Kasabian sets for years to come.

Bumblebee followed. Carnage ensued.

But for frontman Tom Meighan blowing kisses to the crowd there was no tenderness amongst the gig-goers as Underdog continued the chaos in the audience. Often favouring recognizable transitions between songs (see Black Skinhead and Praise You) the lads from Leicester chose Daft Punk’s Around The World to exquisitely segue out of Shoot the Runner and into Eez-Eh.

With Kasabian’s upcoming, sixth effort, For Crying Out Loud, imminent (May 5th), Serge, Tom and co. would be forgiven for showcasing the album in its entirety. However, we were treated to just three new tracks, as Comeback Kid and Bless This Acid House made up the Holy Trinity of pre-release offerings. Devoid of the 48:13 narcissism, fans will be pleased to hear that the new album still has the sort of ridiculous lyricism that made 48:13 so… fun(?).
– ‘Sasquatch in a bin bag, Sasquatch in a bin bag’ (Comeback Kid, Verse 2, Lines 1 & 2)
– ‘I’m like the taste of macaroni on a seafood stick, And you got me switched on, baby, like electric eel’ (You’re in Love with a Psycho, Verse 1, Lines 4 & 5).
I could go on.

2014’s groovy electronic treat, Treat, proved the most danceable number of the evening. The instrumental section saw guitarist Sergio Pizzorno scale the venue, eyes ablaze, channeling his inner Ibiza DJ, dictating festivities from the balcony. With chants of ‘Sergio, Sergio’ greeting Serge’s return to the stage you can understand why he would later declare this to be one of Kasabian’s ‘best ever gigs’.

Never room for a timid audience member at a Kasabian gig, throughout, Meighan led the way, showcasing the work of his trips to the Mick Jagger School of Questionable Dancing. A notable highlight being his unprecedented ‘air violining’ during Stevie, that would not look out of place at a London Philharmonic Orchestra Christmas party.

Indeed, playing such an intimate tour does come with snags. The usually colossal Club Foot and Vlad The Impaler sounding somewhat off, with the production struggling to contain the band’s stadium-sized sound. Like having a Big Mac but minus the gherkins, something small was missing. However, no such problems followed with LSF, as the crowd’s chorus echoes begged the band back on stage for an encore.

A conclusion of Fire saw the group finish in a blaze of glory. It didn’t take much of the 90-minute set to realise it, but Kasabian are stalwarts of the largest of stages, witnessing them in such a small venue was truly a privilege. Wishing the crowd a ‘Happy f*cking Easter’ on their way off stage, Tom, Serge and the Kasabian posse ensured the best possible start to the Easter weekend for 3,000 fans.

 Bear’s Den at the Hammersmith Apollo – 05.04.2017

On home turf, Bear’s Den showcase their folk-rooted sounds at a sold out Hammersmith Apollo.

Brief and honourable mention to enigmatic support act Seramic. With his abundance of soul and questionable dance moves, he and his eclectic band put on an almost show-stealing funk-filled display. If Jack Garratt and D’Angelo somehow had a lovechild that lovechild would be Seramic. Or if Chet Faker was a Russian doll, Seramic would be one of the pieces inside.

However, the night belonged to Bear’s Den. Recently reduced to two hairy mammals, Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones, but surrounded by four talented multi-instrumentalists, they utilized atmospheric 2016 album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain as the gigs’ centre-piece. With its brooding electric feel filling the vast venue, the title track was an apt opener, and songs like Emeralds and Auld Wives entrancingly emanated throughout the Eventim Apollo.

The band aired December’s stand-alone single, Berlin, and Bear’s Den loyalists will welcome the return to the sound of superb debut, Islands, as a banjo-orientated number. Largely neglected on Red Earth & Pouring Rain, dropped completely by folk titans Mumford & Sons for their most recent effort, the pleasurable plucking on Berlin, Isaac and New Jerusalem prove it’s an instrument not limited to buck-toothed, tobacco-chewing, dungaree-sporting hillbillies utilizing their extra fingers to best effect.

Frontman, Davie’s lyrics and honest vocals give the impression that he’s both a hopeless romantic and that he’s had his heart ripped out of his chest, put through a shredder and then fed to ravenous dogs, such are the tragic words that are even more heartbreaking when heard in person. This allows emotionally-charged sing-a-longs to Above the Clouds of Pompeii and Stubborn Beast, and builds to a riotous set-stealing When You Break. While we are treated to a fair share of the new album, it’s this material from Islands that is best received by the London crowd.

Davie was visibly overwhelmed by the deafening ovation that welcomed the band back onto the stage for their encore. Lost for words, a stripped-back rendition of Bad Blood minus microphones completely reduced the 5,000 strong crowd to silence. A rousing finale of very first single, the now-anthemic Agape, concluded a triumphant evening before the Bear’s retreated into hibernation, ending their biggest British tour to date.

I spoke to Bear’s Den back in November, you can hear that interview and see that awful photo here:

Sundara Karma at the O2 Institute, Birmingham – 11.02.2017

One day after the conclusion of their support of Two Door Cinema Club, Sundara Karma comfortably shake off the Best Supporting Cast shackles, proving to be more than capable of a rapturous headline show.

The band emerged on the O2 Institute stage to Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl; presumably the foursome had forgotten their entrance music and the only CD at their disposal was NOW 62*. Diving straight in with album opener A Young Understanding, the band certainly showed they had this as the youthful crowd swayed, crushed, moshed and bounced energetically over the next seventy minutes.
*(check it, it’s right)

On their first major headline tour, the glamorous Reading outfit hoped to make this first night a spectacle, dressed to impress, as though they had walked through a Salvation Army shop covered in Velcro; flares, blouses and long hair to boot. Admittedly they scored an own-goal by deciding to deploy large multi-coloured balloons, bought for a giants’ birthday party. They not only disrupted the bands’ concentration (knocking over mic stands, bumping pedals) but scared this reviewer sh*tless, as spontaneous balloon pops were less than complimentary additions to the set.

That complaint out of the way, the exciting opening was followed by latest single, the anthemic Flame. It perfectly demonstrated why they had to upgrade venues from The Rainbow to Birmingham’s O2 Institute, such was the demand for the show. Mark my words they have a sound fit for stadiums, so don’t expect to see them in 2,000 capacity venues for too much longer.

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Sundara Karma fully showcased their debut album, the cynically named Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect. This cynic was very impressed by this strong first effort, one of the best albums of 2017 so far (admittedly we are one month and 14 days into 2017 at the time of writing). However one song I find less impressive is She Said, a blatant Circa Waves rip-off. One Circa Waves is more than enough, fellas.

Ally Baty on lead guitar, Haydn Evans on drums and Dom Cordell on bass all contribute towards Sundara Karma’s tight indie-pop sound, but it is frontman Oscar Pollock providing the star quality. He proved this on Vivienne, losing his guitar before losing himself amongst the crowd during this epic love number. A crowd-surf-gone-wrong turned into Pollock navigating his way around a packed dancefloor back to the stage as though he were a religious icon being mobbed by adoring followers. All the while effortlessly maintaining his grace and poise.

The band closed the main set with their ‘Wonderwall’, Happy Family. A hymn-like harmony over a cheery guitar string plucking intro descends into Pollock desperately proclaiming anything but a happy family.

Swiftly re-emerging for an encore, Sundara Karma unleashed a Luther Vandross-shaped surprise with a cover of his disco classic, Never Too Much. Closing the set in fine fashion (unlike the garments on show), was Loveblood, one of the biggest indie singles of 2016. It’s a song that received much Radio 1 airplay and propelled the band through a stratospheric rise in recent months. Always a strong live act, now with an album under their belt, Sundara Karma prove why they are currently the hottest property on the up-and-coming British indie-rock scene.

Two Door Cinema Club at the O2 Academy Birmingham – 24.01.2017

In this, the first show of their sell out UK tour, the indie-pop stalwarts provide a night of nostalgia.

With Two Door Cinema Club’s first British tour for four years, in support of Gameshow, their first album for four years, it comes as a surprise – albeit a nice one – that they opt against ramming new material down our throats. The opening four numbers all come from debut album, Tourist History. Full of adolescent anthems, they unleash Cigarettes in the Theatre, Undercover Martyn, Do You Want It All? and This Is the Life; beginning at breakneck speed. In fact, all of this seminal indie-pop album is showcased bar You’re Not Stubborn. As a result, the show is relentless, as the nature of Two Door songs don’t allow for respite. Their shows should come with hazard warning, advising bringing a waterproof jacket, or a towel, such is the intense perspiration amongst the crowd.

The Chris Martin-current-midlife-crisis-dirge-inspired, nightmarish-Avicci-club-like, actually Madeon-produced Changing of the Seasons follows. If Tourist History is the Chris Tarrant or Takeshi’s Castle of albums, then the Changing of the Seasons EP is more Dale Winton’s fake tan or the 2016 remake of the Crystal Maze. Certainly proving to be the musical Weakest Link of the night.

On the subject of Gameshows, the Northern Irish outfit have followed The 1975 down the wondrously colourful (and evidently fruitful) alley of disco with their 2016 album Gameshow. Bad Decisions, an album highlight, is similarly a live stand out from the new album, as primitive pogoing turned to groovier grinding. The closest thing to a rest we would be gifted all night. Frontman Alex Trimble clearly took whatever post-AM Alex Turner has been taking. He occasionally relinquishes his guitar and swaggers around stage, scaling new vocal heights on the falsetto-driven Je Viens De La.

Not too much was said by the band throughout the hour and a half set, asides from showing genuine gratitude to the crowd. Instead the instruments did the talking as impressive lead guitarist, Sam Halliday, made his guitar sing with the instantly recognizable delicate finger picking and furious friction-inducing strumming sounds. Understated and perhaps underestimated, Halliday is a modern day guitar hero of British indie, just see futuristic I Can Talk and first ever single Something Good Can Work. First started on MySpace ten years ago, most of the crowd wouldn’t have remembered this release as, to my surprise, the crowd was full of excitable youths. This as opposed to being surrounded by similar-aged adults seeking to recapture our secondary school, long hair-swishing, inbetweener, indie kid heyday, when the only worries we had were if the girl you liked poked you back on Facebook and avoiding detentions from weary teachers who didn’t find phallic-shaped graffiti on textbooks amusing. A form of escapism from the endless war waged against dissertations, grad jobs and general adult life that I currently live. What is evident then, is that Two Door’s music still resonates with teenagers as it did with me ten years ago. From the height of my high horse everyone seemed to have a great time, even if it was a school night, after the ten o’clock curfew, in the middle of GCSE mock season.

The main set ends with a rousing rendition of Sun from 2012’s Beacon. As the horns escalate, serotonin levels rise to new heights. Two Door Cinema Club are THE feel good indie-pop band that carry great sentimentality for so many. Finishing with What You Know, those with any energy left leave everything on the O2 Academy dancefloor. And if I know anything, Two Door Cinema Club’s return is certainly a welcome one, definitely an enjoyable one and undoubtedly a sweaty one.

Blossoms O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire 13.12.2016

Let’s be honest, 2016 has been a year to forget for most. For obvious reasons. The same cannot be said, however, for Stockport band Blossoms. While the sanity of mankind has clearly plummeted, with a number one debut album along with a fair few air miles as a result of their unrelenting touring schedule, Blossoms’ career has soared. It certainly seems like a life time ago that Blossoms were on the grind, acting as their own roadies and playing in small rooms in places like Leamington Spa, Guildford and Kingston. No disrespect to these venues but they are relatively insignificant (if I was being cynical)/humble (if I was being nice) in the career of musicians, compared to a sold out date at the Shephards Bush Empire like tonight. In February I wrote of the Leamington gig, ‘It is unquestionable that this was a unique opportunity to catch a band destined for greatness in such intimate surroundings.’ I guess I was right.

The band emerged onstage to Kanye West’s Black Skinhead, ironic as the five piece are anything but, quite easily being mistaken for auditionees for a Head & Shoulders television advert such are their trademark luscious locks. Rattling through hits such as At Most A Kiss, Blown Rose and Getaway, it could have felt as though Blossoms were on a mission to finish before ten and get some Christmas shopping done before the stores in Westfield closed. However, the band demonstrated their growing confidence and live experience as the anthemic Blow provided a good opportunity for a crowd call and response, and later, Polka Dot Bones allowed them to throw off the disco shackles and simply ‘rock out’.

This growing confidence emanated throughout the band as towering frontman, Tom Ogden, strutted and sneered self-assuredly, and Joe Donavon whacked his drums emphatically. Either side of Ogden, lead guitarist Joshua Dewhurst and bassist Charlie Salt remained unmoved throughout the 70 minute set. It’s this arrogance that’s both striking and endearing about the band. They’re a band doing all the right things and they know it. Lest we forget Myles Kellock on keys and synth quietly going about his work transforming the band’s sound into, what is currently, the most danceable indie rock band in the country. Never is this more evident than when Honey Sweet recovers the set from the slight lull of set-filler, sure to be wiped from all memory once album number two is out, Fourteen.

Being Christmas, the night took a festive turn with a sing-a-long to Last Christmas, making up an enjoyable medley alongside Babybird’s You’re Gorgeous and Oasis’s Half The World Away. This followed Ogden’s solo serenade of the crowd with break-up single My Favourite Room. Charlemagne, undoubtedly one of the songs of the year, a bonafide dancefloor hit plucked from a 1980s musical mind, provided the obvious finale and made sure all went home satisfied. Exiting to rapturous applause, Ogden rolls up the sleeves of his long-sleeved t shirt emblazoned with ‘Marry Me’. I’m sure he doesn’t have a lack of suitors in tonight’s adoring crowd, but Ogden, and his bandmates have bigger dates in 2017: a night at the Roundhouse in March and Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl in July. Boy how 2016 has seen the career of these 5 lads from Stockport flourish or better, blossom.

Neil Young and Promise of the Real at the O2 11.06.2016

On this, the Rebel Content Tour, the ageing rocker proves to be both ageless and still rebellious

As two straw hat-sporting, dungaree-wearing, grain-spreading figures scatter seeds across the O2 stage you would be forgiven for mistaking the gig for a theatrical performance of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. This precedes the entrance of the evening’s villains. Wearing hazmat suits and spraying pesticides across the stage, the serene country atmosphere is wiped by a Ghostbusters-like nightmare. Hidden beneath his black hat and a harmonica, Neil Young looks like Zorro, an environmental protagonist here to save the world from corporate greed and environmental unsustainability with his acoustic guitar.

The rock hero emerges behind a piano for After The Gold Rush. The subdued and understated solo opening enhances the environmental message of the night, as Young updates the lyrics to ‘Look at Mother Nature on the run in the twenty-first century’. This contemporary edge is soon superseded by the reminiscent audience who eagerly cheer the line ‘There was a band playing in my head, and I felt like getting high’. From Hank to Hendrix, is a beautiful number, oozing vulnerability and showcasing Young’s often overlooked vocal abilities. Heart of Gold and The Needle and the Damage Done are welcome inclusions from the 1972 masterpiece Harvest. They sound even more impressive live in 2016 than on the CD I grew up listening to in my father’s car.

methode_times_prod_web_bin_0503fc7e-30a0-11e6-9c43-b579056ef2e5Young caps off this solo opening with Mother Earth (Natural Anthem). Hunched over a battered organ, with a single candle illuminating the old rocker, he resembles a maniacal musical genius conducting mass. Considering his recent live release Earth and the same title emblazoned on his t-shirt, we are under no illusions that Young is still fighting overtly for the environmental cause. Mother Earth’s conclusion exacerbates this:

‘Respect Mother Earth and her giving ways Or trade away our children’s days.’

The gig really shifts up a gear when Young exchanges his acoustic guitar for his trusted electronic weapon ‘Old Black’ and his band Promise of the Real are introduced. The subdued, understated opening descends into a frenzy of feedback and crunching guitar sounds, showcasing his accreditation as the godfather of grunge. Most notably Alabama and Words (Behind the Lines of Age) still sound as bitter and venomous as on record, almost 45 years on from Harvest. Even On the Beach’s Revolution Blues is dusted off and Walk On is a jovial experience.

A mention must go to Promise of the Real, in place of the ageing Crazy Horse. Including Lukas and Micah Nelson (sons of Willie) they look like excitable children who had won a competition to play alongside their hero. Young to’s-and-fro’s with Lukas, engaging in a sonic, solo duel in constant attempts to out-do one-another, although Young always reigns supreme. This exemplifies the unpredictable nature of the night, as well as the authoritative dominance of the 70-year old, as his band constantly fight to respond to his cues and his lead. Having recorded and released The Monsanto Years with Promise of the Real, it comes as a surprise to only hear one song from the album, that being the self-titled single. This is somewhat a relief after a Bristol audience was subject to hearing the entirety of the then-unreleased Tonight’s the Night, four times over in 1973. It is safe to say that Young’s songwriting hasn’t gotten any less confrontational, however:

‘Every year he buys the patented seeds Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto When you shop for your daily bread and walk the aisles of Safeway, Safeway.’

The rocker attempting to tackle his vendetta against Safeway.

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There is a notable lack of Zuma, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and Rust Never Sleeps, though with 36 studio albums to his name, it is inevitable that some albums will be overlooked. One album that is well-showcased is his and Crazy Horse’s excellent 1990 effort Ragged Glory. This is not just because Young concludes with a 30 minute Love and Only Love from the aforementioned album. While at first encapsulating, compelling and hypnotic, twenty minutes in it seems as though Young has forgotten he’s performing to a crowd, and instead serving his own boredom, or rather his ego.

F*!#in’ Up provides the youthful encore, bringing the 2 and a half hour barnstorming set to a close. For one last time the three guitarists and bassist gather in the centre of the stage in attempts to impress one another, as they had all night. Their musical chemistry is clear. By the end Neil Young is hard to distinguish as the old crony, as the band engage in a food fight, aiming cherries at each other and into the crowd. Promise of the Real not only sufficiently support Young musically, but they bring the 70-year olds’ youth back out of him. Tonight proves that Neil Young is not just an ailing rocker and that he still has a thing or two to teach today’s youth about how to rock out.

Coldplay at Wembley 16.06.2016

Coldplay redeem my faith in the world with a spectral showpiece.

The second of four sold out nights at the home of English failure (football*) saw the London band paint their home town multi-coloured, like they swallowed a rainbow and projectile vomited it across Wembley.

Support acts Lianne Le Havas and Alessia Cara proved to be underwhelming, failing to clear the dark clouds that hovered literally and metaphorically after the horrific events of previous weeks. Despite the former seducing us with her charm and soul, the latter lectured us with her ‘be who you want to be, not what the media wants you to be’, broken-hearted, excessive thanks etc. spiel. Considering the scale of Coldplay’s previous supports (see Jay Z and Girls Aloud circa 2008), the £70 ticket prices perhaps could have stretched further and provided more than just a gazebo to protect their supports from the rain.

Nonetheless the band the 80,000 fans came to see spared no expense theatrically and pyrotechnically. Coldplay’s arrival on stage brought the first of numerous explosions of confetti of the night. Entire forests must have been demolished to supply Coldplay with confetti for their tour; it was possibly the reason why Chris Martin’s ex-wife and renowned environmental nut Gwyneth Paltrow ‘consciously uncoupled’ him. A huge commitment to his trade, dare I say it marital martyrdom. Martin and co. transformed Wembley into a glistening spectacle with an impressive lights show involving LED wristbands; the stadium must have resembled a UFO from afar. The audience thus became part of the show, rather than just spectators. Coldplay clearly weren’t put off by the fact that this same stunt left their Mylo Xyloto Tour completely unprofitable. Nevertheless, the stadium glowed and sparkled beautifully like a psychedelic acid trip from the 60s. Even the band’s instruments dripped multi-coloured paint as though they had fallen into an M & Ms mixing vat. This all distracted from the fact the title track from the band’s latest effort A Head Full of Dreams opened the show rather modestly, despite Chris Martin’s best efforts to lead the procession like a master of ceremonies with the demeanour of an excitable Jack Russell.

Martin gets his fair share of stick but it is hard to deny his showmanship qualities. While the rest of Coldplay stand mute on the grand stage, the band’s lead singer and leader entertains the crowd like a poorly dressed performing monkey (see his repugnant, rainbow-coloured, over-sized basketball sneakers and long-sleeved and short sleeved t-shirt combo) . His energetic bursts up and down the stage runway, solo-spinning like a drunk in a club just before lights go up, not to mention his ability to hold a tune at the same time, renders Martin a real tour de force to admire. However with the more downbeat numbers like Yellow (gotten out of the way surprisingly early), The Scientist, and Fix You seeing mass sing-a longs, it shows involvement takes no persuading. As the lyrics reverberated around North London, it became clear how personal and recognisable they are to each and every member of the audience; a testament to just how ingrained Coldplay have become within British culture.

13450891_10157042234300187_6799952874059811115_nNew, seventh album A Head Full of Dreams was, as expected, heavily showcased this evening. So much so that the Grammy Award-winning debut Parachutes and Brit award-winning and Grammy-nominated X & Y were neglected in favour for the mixed reviewed A Head Full of Dreams and Chris Martin’s sickening ode to his break up with Paltrow, Ghost Stories. Nevertheless it sounded better live, with the likes of Hymn for the Weekend (minus Beyonce, unfortunately) and Jonny Buckland’s infectious guitar rhythms on lead single Adventure of a Lifetime proving that every Coldplay song is made for live performances.

Swapping from the main stage to a smaller podium in the centre of the stadium, the band oscillated to more subdued numbers like 2014’s Magic and the audience Instagram-requested (Coldplay you don’t help yourself) God Put a Smile Upon Your Face, wonderfully harking back to second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. Drummer Will Champion, bassist Guy Berryman, Martin and Buckland crowded round the podium in what were nice, stripped-back, understated renditions, particularly compared to the colourful parade that had preceded. A poignant, yet dreadful, cover of the late, great David Bowie’s Heroes, also featured, with the band paying tribute to Muhammad Ali, the Orlando victims, MP Jo Cox and Christina Grimmie, throughout the night.

Paradise was as fun as you’d imagine, until what seemed like the concert had been hijacked by Calvin Harris for an unnecessary nightclub rave-esque ending. Mylo Xyloto’s Charlie Brown provided a highlight of the night, it turned the concert from toe-tapping into full-scale jumping even getting the elderly audience members (sorry father) bouncing enthusiastically. Viva La Vida was the peak, and would later echo along Wembley Way all the way to Wembley Park Station. The encore, however, failed to elevate the concert to new heights with most of the songs you’d expect at the climax used up earlier, instead opting to finish with Up&Up; nice but just that.

Coldplay, love them or loathe them, are currently the biggest pop band in the world. Now veterans of the big stage, having performed the ‘prestigious’ Superbowl Half Time Corporate Circus, and headlining Glastonbury for – what seemed like – the 16th time, their pensions are well and truly secure, please now get back to writing good albums.

Muse at the O2 11.04.2016

The Drones Tour was everything the ‘Drones’ album failed to be: clever, inspiring and spectacular.

The Songs of Praise crossed cult ceremony hymn ‘Drones’ announced Muse’s landing in London in a spiritual manner. As eleven remote-controlled drones looking like rogue London Eye pods engaged in some sort of mid-air synchronised swimming routine, it became evident that the stadium-rock pioneers were embarking on their most ambitious tour yet.

If ‘Drones’ was a subdued introduction, ‘Psycho’ was anything but. The Teignmouth trio unleashed the lead from 2015 album ‘Drones’ on the packed O2 Arena. The jumpable army drill anthem swiftly reinforced their position as the widely acknowledged best live band in the world. Drummer Dominic Howard, (as far as my Muse musings are concerned, a dead ringer for Kian Egan of Westlife), instigated the next round of carnage kicking in the opening drumbeat for ‘Reapers’ before frontman Matt Bellamy displayed the fingerpicking of arguably the best guitarist in the world today. So impressive is his shredding, sliding and strumming, it could possibly bring about world peace. If anyone had wandered into the concert unaware of what they were about to witness, the opening number ‘Drones’, the flying drones and the screams of ‘Here come the drones’ in ‘Reapers’ were probably enough to remind people.

The ferocious start continued with usual staple of a Muse gig ‘Plug in Baby’, which has interestingly and controversially been reduced to a mere interchangeable set-filler on this Drones Tour. As possibly the band’s biggest song, its unstapling is like going to Nandos and not getting chicken. We were also subject to the heavy-metal flirting ‘Stockholm Syndrome’; the Tom Morello-inspired ‘Citizen Erased’, a welcome inclusion from the seminal ‘Origin of Symmetry’; and Morgan Nicholls, Muse’s touring member, demonstrated what can only be described as the most furious maraca playing ever seen on the supermassive ‘Supermassive Black Hole’.

During ‘Undisclosed Desires’ Bellamy sported a pair of flashing red glasses as though he was on a bloke called Gaz’s legendary stag-do in Magaluf. While he has ditched his lyric-listing glasses for ‘Madness’ from the previous tour, the frontman instead assumed these migraine-inducing spectacles. This proved to be just the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading me to call for the sacking of the band stylist. The trio dressed head to toe in all-black padded, stitched and generally awful attire resembling the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The same could not be said for the production team, though. As far as show production is concerned, it was flawless. With the flying drones, the unfurled curtain banners, the politically charged graphics, the confetti-filled balloons, and the spinning central stage combined with the double-headed arrow shaped platforms spanning almost the length of the arena floor. It enabled a truly 360-degree, U2-esque experience and an equally engaging affair not just for those standing but for those in the heavens of the arena. Complex, yes. Self-indulgent, yes. But innovative, ground-breaking and brilliant, yes.

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During ‘Time is Running Out’ Bellamy’s extraordinary vocal range permeated throughout the O2; his falsettos sounding like a strangled cat but in the best possible way. This complemented the unmistakable bass line of Chris Wolstenholme. Although the guitar work steals the headlines, Muse’s mute bassist mustn’t be overlooked, with iconic contributions to ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Madness’, most notably. ‘Munich Jam’ was just one of a number of solos on the night, but the only time when Wolstenholme and Howard were able to steal the limelight from Bellamy, largely because he had retreated off stage to collect his next guitar.

The Muse faithful transformed into an army of over 20,000 to the marching tune of ‘Uprising’. As Bellamy declared:
‘They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious’
His followers willingly obliged, complimenting the chorus with ‘Hey’ chants and fist pumps. This confirmed what had already developed as a theatre-like performance, not just for its Les Miserables revolution-provoking music.

From its western-style opening all the way to its triumphant piano finale via a hard rocking filling, ‘The Globalist’ proved its worth as merely a Bohemian Rhapsody rip-off. An ominous Thunderbirds 2-spaceship-drone –thing, meanwhile circled the audience only serving to distract me. The ten minute track is just one of the flaws of ‘Drones’ which was admittedly incorrectly deemed the Best Rock Album at this year’s Grammys, which gives me hope that my forthcoming album about global warming played on the spoons could win next year. It could be worse, however, Bellamy could have ‘done a Chris Martin’ and followed his split with actress Kate Hudson by producing an album as bad as Coldplay’s ‘Ghost Stories’. ‘Ghost Stories’, ‘Drones’ certainly is not.

After a reprise of the ‘Drones’ hymn, the band returned with a jubilant rendition of Mercy, a ‘Drones’ highlight. ‘Knights of Cydonia’ epically concluded the set. The Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock classic that caused so much distress for so many wannabe rockstars caused both delight and havoc amongst the crowd. A record-breaking crowd boarded a UFO-resembling O2 Arena and the space rock trio were the soundtrack for two terrific hours. The Drones Tour has seen Muse surpass previous live efforts, resetting the bar for music concerts to new heights by which all artists must now aspire to reach.

Adele at The O2 Arena 04.04.2016

On this, the penultimate night of Adele’s sold out Great Britain and Ireland 22-date tour, the biggest artist in the world proves to be well worth the agonising four year wait, with the biggest tour of the year.

As a pair of closed, mascara-clad eyes dominate the O2 Arena stage, the moody opening piano chords signal the obvious opener, ‘Hello’. The eyes flash open and the woman that emerges on a separate stage in the centre of the O2 Arena, stunning in a sparkling sequined gown, is a far cry from the fresh-faced chav that rose to fame at just 19. Madonna, Prince, Bono and Akon are all one-named greats that have conquered the O2 Arena and Adele certainly fits that bill roaring through her colossal comeback single, proceeding to say ‘Hello’ to each and every other side of the audience. The Londoner, on home turf, follows with ‘Hometown Glory’, penned at just 16, before ‘One and Only’ from ‘21’. Writing this as a hopeful 21 year old, the same age Adele wrote the multi-Grammy award winning, best-selling album of the past 15 years it’s hard not to feel like I’ve underachieved compared to her.

As the star bursts into ‘Rumour Has It’, it is clear that unlike Beyonce, Adele doesn’t need 8 costume changes. Unlike Miley Cyrus, Adele opts for class over twerking-trash. Unlike Taylor Swift, Adele has her ego in check. Unlike Katy Perry, Adele’s music actually means something. You pay (albeit a lot) for the voice and boy do you hear it. No gimmicks needed. The voice is just as impressive, if not more so, as on record. Despite 20,000 plus in attendance, it feels just as intimate as being in a local pub. It is clear that Adele is both the most talented export this country has seen since the late Amy Winehouse. But unlike Amy Winehouse, there is no risk of Adele following the same fate, as she sips a honey mixture from a mug this evening.

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The record smashing ‘25’ is expectedly well showcased with faultless renditions of ‘Sweetest Devotion’, ‘Water Under The Bridge’, ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ and ‘Million Years Ago’. ‘19’ and ‘21’ get decent plays much to the relief of the crowd, as does the Oscar-winning, Bond-theme ‘Skyfall’. A stripped back ‘Don’t You Remember’ performed with her guitarist, double bassist and drummer stands out even though Adele warns that she may burp when hitting the high, climaxing note. It must be said, that an Adele burp is probably more tuneful than my best effort to sing along.

Her songs have the heart-wrenching edge of a Hugh Grant film, while her performance has the street swag of Missy Elliott combined with the grace and poise of Etta James. However, her mid-song chats are anything but elegant. An Adele gig has as many expletives as a Tarentino film. She also deems it necessary to announce that she no longer requires Imodium to prevent her getting the sh*ts before gigs. She also thanks everyone for coming, even those who were dragged along by their other halves, guaranteeing that they will get laid as a result. If Adele happened to wake up one day, devoid of her angelic voice, at least she could fall back on a stand-up comedy career.

The superlative ‘Someone Like You’ is as wonderful as expected, without carrying quite the same emotional punch as it did when her performance five years ago on the same stage at the Brit awards propelled her to superstardom. Famously about a now red-faced ex, maybe her next album will be an ode to her current, possibly neglected husband, as most of the songs played are introduced as being about the lover who spurned her. Maybe she will reinvent herself after what I will dub the ‘tearful trilogy’: ‘19’, ‘21’ and ‘25’. Maybe she will venture into other genres: hip-hop, dubstep or heavy metal? We will have to see.

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The star provided light-hearted relief between the onslaught of heart-wrenching numbers, taking a moment to pose for what some may call unflattering ‘Adelefies’, (Adele selfies for those not in with the lingo). By the time she ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ I was more than convinced by Adele’s Glastonbury headlining credentials. With more charisma in her little finger than Coldplay’s Chris Martin, as well as being from this planet in contrast to Muse’s Matt Bellamy, I have no doubt that Adele will steal the show in front of 100,000 mud-covered Glastonbury-goers.

I should probably keep this review balanced so here are a few negatives from the night:
Adele encouraged a mass sing along during ‘Chasing Pavements’, but one couldn’t help but feel ripped off. People had paid a lot of money to her Adele sing, not to hear a half-drunken crowd blurt out ‘Should I give up or should I just keep chasing pavements…’. Her exquisite cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ saw the arena lit up by mobile phone lights. Forget the fact that it was absolutely beautiful; it was a criminal waste of phone battery. She even stopped to give tickets to a fellow in the crowd from Kansas for a gig in the US. The negative here is this is just plain unfair. And anyone expecting to mosh along to an Adele love song would have been mightily disappointed. Okay, perhaps I’m just clutching at straws from an otherwise perfect performance.

Adele begins her encore with ‘All I Ask’. This is followed by what the Londoner regards as the crown jewel, the ‘Someone Like You’ of 25: ‘When We Were Young’. The number is accompanied by sweet pictures of a pre-superstardom, cheeky, gap-toothed Adele Adkins, back when the only thing she had to worry about was what flavour ice-cream to get, not how to follow up the ‘Greatest Billboard 200 Album of All Time’, performing in front of tens of thousands of fans combined with raising a child. ‘Rolling In The Deep’ proves to be a grand finale, even bringing my crippled, walking-stick sporting father to his feet. He too, like everyone fortunate enough to get tickets for this special concert was utterly mesmerised by a ready-made British musical legend.